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Will the European Commission’s Roadmap tackle plastic waste prevention?

Posted on Feb 2, 2017 10:01:00 PM

More than 90 per cent of plastic used Recycled Plastic Initiativesin Europe is produced from new sources as opposed to recycled plastic or bioplastic alternatives. The European Commission have acknowledged that the European Union (EU) are failing to tackle plastic production and upcycling in the continent. If Europe was exploiting plastics to their full potential this would save natural resources – equivalent to 25 per cent of France’s annual oil consumption and reduce nine million tonnes of CO2 emissions. So, last week a new strategy by the European body was launched to improve the recycling efforts and increase market awareness across Europe in their latest policy titled Roadmap for the EU Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy. It highlights the continent's high dependence on fossil fuels, the low recycling rates and marine plastic concerns. However, this roadmap has been recently criticised by campaign groups for failing to address primary plastic waste prevention. Rather than sourcing plastic alternatives, they stress that waste needs to be reduced and optimised first.

Roadmaps are required for Commission initiatives that may have significant direct economic, social or environmental impacts, covering:

  • legislative proposals
  • non-legislative initiatives (white papers, action plans, financial programmes, negotiating guidelines for international agreements)
  • implementing measures and delegated acts

So this Roadmap outlines how the EU will monitor the release of plastic into the environment and the heavy dependence of fossil-fuel derived materials through a strategy to be put in place this year. It further states that there needs to be more concentration on the definitions of biodegradable and compostable plastics.

European Bioplastics (EUBP), the association representing the bioplastics industry along the entire value chain in Europe has defended the EU Roadmap believing that this is the start to big changes in the plastic industry which will work “towards an innovative, sustainable, and resource-efficient economy.” François de Bie, Chairman of European Bioplastics said: “Alternatives to fossil feedstock such as biomass or CO2 will be taken into account for the manufacture of plastics. Furthermore, diverse end-of-life options will be assessed. Making use of biodegradation properties of bioplastics will help to divert organic waste from landfill and will help reduce plastic leakage into the environment.”

Conversely, the European co-ordinator of the Break Free From Plastic movement, Delphine Lévi Alvarès said: “It is crucial that we reframe the debate around real solutions, take action to reduce throwaway plastics dramatically and acknowledge producer responsibility for a product’s end of life in the design process, rather than focusing on unsustainable replacement and recycling.”

In the new strategy, the European Commission have emphasised that in the current market, biodegradable products are only intended for industrial composting facilities where it creates secondary products such as organic fertilisers rather than for the pure benefit of the environment. This is an issue that the roadmap looks to address. It states that this plastic process should be adopted in alternative environments to combine recycling with value creation and economic growth.

However, environmental campaign groups like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Europe and Zero Waste Europe have a very different approach to tackling excess plastic usage. They have criticised the European Commission for failing to promote an increase in reusing and recycling plastic rather than focusing on sourcing new bio-plastic materials. Whilst this is one solution to the problem, Break Free From Plastic suggest that this should be secondary.

Furthermore, campaigners disagree with the Roadmap on the grounds that it targets a lack of consumer awareness as a key cause of plastic waste, rather than addressing the producer’s responsibility and the lack of cohesion in the biodegradable plastic market.

“Instead of acting during the product design stage and instigating prevention of plastic waste, the Commission has chosen to emphasise better recycling technologies and substitution with ‘renewable’ feedstock. These responses will not lead to a meaningful adoption of Circular Economy principles, nor will it necessarily reduce health-harming plastic pollution.” said Alvarès.

Secondly, she emphasises that: “It is crucial that we reframe the debate around real solutions, take action to dramatically reduce throwaway plastics and acknowledge producer responsibility for a product’s end of life in the design process, rather than focusing on (unsustainable) replacement and recycling.”

Whilst Bio-Based World News welcome all moves towards plastic waste prevention, it is clear from this article that more needs to be done. Let us know your thoughts on this - are producers doing enough? And are the European Commission tackling the core issues behind plastic waste?

For more articles on plastic waste reduction you might be interested in:

Why recycle when you can upcycle? A sustainability trend in focus.

VIDEO: Can you imagine a world without 'stuff'?

How Paptic aim to Finnish our damaging dependence on plastic bags.

Enzyme driven bio-plant to turn problem household waste into resource.

The latest sustainable packaging solution? Shopping bags made from prawns.

Topics: BBWNFeatures

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About the Author

Emily O'Dowd
Emily O'Dowd
On graduating with a degree in English Literature at Royal Holloway University of London, Emily joined the editorial team. When she isn't writing articles for the website or interviewing experts in more